Parliament’s ‘political president’ marks halfway term

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Jerzy Buzek is the first president of the European Parliament in many years to give the role a more political aura rather than just maintain a purely institutional function, according to a leading political analyst.

As Buzek delivered his mid-term speech yesterday (20 October), EURACTIV asked Piotr Kaczy?ski, a research fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), to comment on the changes that had occurred at the helm of the European Parliament.

In yesterday's Stasbourg plenary address, Buzek pointed out that his term of office had coincided with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, for which he had personally lobbied to help overcome the resistance of Eurosceptics like Czech President Václav Klaus.

"The Lisbon Treaty has changed the powers of Parliament and its position vis-à-vis other institutions. The position of the Parliament president has changed as well," Kaczy?ski said, stressing that not only had the Parliament's increased powers boosted Buzek's role, but also his stature as a statesman.

"President Buzek was elected with the highest majority ever as president of Parliament. It was a political manifestation," said Kaczy?ski, adding that the Pole has had more leverage than most of his predecessors.

"Compare the sort of stardom in Parliament of [Hans-Gert] Pöttering (Germany, 2007-2009), or Nicole Fontaine (France, 1999-2002) to their presence in the national context, which was extremely limited. While Buzek's leverage in his country is not limited: it is huge. This is a big change, and a big novelty in the post-Lisbon situation," Kaczy?ski said.

Kaczy?ski, who is also Polish, said he did not know Buzek personally.

Judging by the press impact, Buzek has been popular not only in his native Poland, but across Eastern Europe, as he has been on a number of occasions a spokesperson for these countries' interests, be it in climate change negotiations, the field of energy security or fair representation in the European External Action Service. On other instances, Buzek had advocated the positions of his European People's Party group.

Asked if Buzek should not have kept a more neutral profile, Kaczy?ski replied negatively. "He is a politician. He is not [Council President] Herman Van Rompuy. This is a completely different job. He is a politician in parliament," Kaczy?ski insisted.

In his speech, Buzek elaborated on what appears to be his favourite topic – the creation of a European Energy Community. He is aiming to build a bloc on the model of the European Coal and Steel Community in the early 1950s: a joint effort in which he can count on the support of former Commission President Jacques Delors.

Kaczy?ski concurred that the energy community was Buzek's big political project, adding that "maybe one should expect a confrontation' between Buzek and Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger on that subject at a later stage, as the commissioner had shown little interest in the matter so far.

"It's only half term but this is already a legacy," Kaczy?ski argued.

"Overall, he has met all the standards he was supposed to meet and exceeded some. He has had a much greater profile than any of his recent predecessors," he said.

The analyst also argued that Buzek's performance provided a good basis to start reconsidering the present system, according to which the term of office of the Parliament president is split in two and shared according to an agreement between the two major political groups.

"I really hope that this [system] at some point will cease to exist," said Kaczy?ski, arguing that the agreement in fact circumvented the vote of Europeans, who had given a clear mandate to one of the political groups to lead and for the other to step back.

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Jerzy Buzek is the 28th president of the European Parliament. For many years, no former prime minister has held the job. Buzek, a former activist of the anti-communist movement in Poland, has been his country's prime minister from 1997 to 2001.

Italy's Emilio Colombo, a Parliament president in the period 1977-1979, has been the prime minister of his country from 1970 to 1972.

Before him, the first European Parliament president in the period 1952-1954, Belgium's Paul-Henri Spaak, known as one of the 'fathers of Europe', had been prime minister for a short period in 1946 and in 1947-1949.

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